Why Some Dogs Have Old English in Their Names

Check out the historical roots of dogs with “Old English” in their names. Learn about cultural connections and what gives these breeds their distinctive identities.

Feb 21, 2024By Nikita Hillier
why do some dogs have old english in their names

The world of dog breeds is extremely diverse and rich with history that reflects the breed's purpose, characteristics, and origins. In this case, dogs that have the title “Old English” in their names, such as the Old English Sheepdog and the Old English Bulldog, offer a super exciting glimpse into their historical roots.

This blog not only dives into the unique histories of these specific breeds but also takes a look at other dog breeds that originated in England.

“Old English” Refers to the Dog’s Originating Country

brown and white old english bulldog
Image Credit: Bil-Jac

The term “Old English” used in dog names has a very rich and deep historical significance. It points to breeds that have deep roots in medieval England and the English Countryside. It reflects back to the rich heritage and traditions of specific canine breeds and how they originated.

These names reflect the legacy of the dog breeds that have played important roles in English history and defined the breed. They were companions, working partners, friends, and guardians. Whether you’re looking at the Old English Sheepdog or Old English Bulldog, the phrase in their name is a very big and important nod to the past.

The Old English Sheep Dog

old english sheepdog with tongue out
Image Credit: The Spruce Pets

Let’s start with the gorgeous Old English Sheepdog. Often known as the “Bobtail,” this dog gets its name from its job herding sheep. This breed has origins that can be traced way back to the West Country, which includes Cornwall, Devon, and Dorset countries in England.

Here are some other things to know:

  • Herding roots: The “Old English” in this dog’s name highlights the breed's connection to traditional shepherding practices. These dogs were a massive part of herding flocks and ensuring their safety while navigating harsh terrains in England.
  • Distinctive appearance: This breed has a shaggy coat that covers its eyes and face. However, this is for a very practical reason. It protected the dogs from harsh weather conditions in the English countryside.
  • Temperament: Old English Sheepdogs are known for their agility, intelligence, and gentle nature. These traits make them amazing guardians and herders.
  • Evolution: Over time, the role of an Old English Sheepdog has changed from a working farm dog to a beloved family companion. Luckily, this breed's name has kept its historical connection to England.

The Old English Bulldog

old english bulldog side profile
Image Credit: Hundeo

The Old English Bulldog, while not as common today as it used to be, has a name deeply rooted in its history, lineage, and purpose.

Baiting and Bulldogging

Bulldogs in England initially began as bull-baiting dogs. This sport was extremely brutal yet popular in medieval times. Their courageous and tenacious nature made sure that they were very well-suited to this task. The term “bulldog” reflects just how important their historical involvement was in baiting bulls. Luckily, this practice has now been outlawed.

Working on the Farm

Beyond being used as bull-baiting dogs, the Old English Bulldog was often used on farms. Their determination and strength made them highly valuable when being used for agricultural tasks. This included the control of unruly livestock and general farm duties.

Evolution of the Breed

Over the years, this breed has seen plenty of changes, and the more modern English Bulldog has evolved into a dog that is more suited to companionship than tasks requiring aggression. Today, this brachycephalic breed is known to spend its days lounging around and snoozing.

Who Names Dog Breeds?

dog wearing glasses
Image credit: Pexels

Naming dog breeds isn’t a specific job that someone can have. The origins of many breed names stem from their country of origin, physical appearance, or intended purpose. Some dogs are named after how they look. For instance, the Stumpy Tail Cattle Dog is named for (you guessed it) its stumpy tail. Shar Pei means “sand skin” in Chinese, referencing the dog’s saggy brown skin.

Other breed name origins are just plain misleading. For instance, you would think that the name “Australian Shepherd” references a herding dog from Down Under, right? Wrong! While these dogs have some connections to Australia, they were actually developed in California.

Other Notable English Dog Breeds

english cocker spaniel in field
Image Credit: Daily Paws

England is home to more than 30 dog breeds. These dogs share many traits, namely, being used for herding, guarding livestock, hunting and retrieving game, and protecting families. Some other dogs that hail from this country include the:

  • English Springer Spaniel: The English Springer Spaniel is a gun dog that dates all the way back to the Renaissance period when it was used for flushing and retrieving game.
  • English Setter: The English Setter is known for its distinctive coat and immense skill for marking game for hunters.
  • English Cocker Spaniel: The English Cocker Spaniel is a sporting breed that excels in both the field and as a human companion.
  • English Mastiff: The English Mastiff is one of the largest dog breeds with a history dating back to ancient times. Originally bred to guard estates, it is clear to see why this big-jowled dog is a symbol of strength and loyalty.

The Bottom Line About Old English Dog Names

old english sheepdog laying in grass
Image Credit: DogTime

The use of “Old English” in the names of some dog breeds serves as a very important reminder of canine heritage and the roles that these specific dogs played in England. Whether they were herding sheep or working on the farm, these dogs were a very crucial part of the lives of people in the English Countryside a long time ago.

As these breeds have evolved and their roles have changed from being working dogs to beloved family companions, the term “Old English” reminds us just how big of an impact they have had on the current dogs we see today and how strong their roots are.

Nikita Hillier
By Nikita Hillier

Nikita is a huge animal lover who has grown up on a farm with many different animals, from dogs and cats to horses and cows! She has a lot of experience in the equine industry and is even in the process of studying for an internationally accredited Equine Sports Massage Certificate! In her spare time, she enjoys writing and spending time with her beloved animals!